Going back to work after maternity leave? Know how to negotiate your re-entry

Going back to work after maternity leave

Be it your first child or second, returning to work after maternity leave can be stressful for new mothers. They must try and establish a new balance at home and at the workplace, even as they struggle to cope with the demands new motherhood places on them.

Statistically, it’s a transition that has a low success rate. Between 2003 and 2010, maternity and childcare issues forced over 48 per cent of employed women under 30 years of age to drop out of the workforce

While there’s a great deal of talk about availing maternity leave and benefits, the difficulties women encounter re-entering the workplace isn’t discussed as much. But negotiating your re-entry is as important as your maternity leave exit. Especially since many new mothers return to work only to find their positions/role were eliminated while they were on leave, or that their salaries were impacted.

Keep these pointers in mind:

Ask the right questions, and get answers in writing
According to Lisa Gates, founder, trainer and coach of She Negotiates, a business that helps women learn essential negotiation skills, there are a number of questions returning mothers need to ask and put on the negotiating table.

  • How does the company feel if you were to take a longer maternity leave than offered?
  • Would you prefer to start work with minimum hours and gradually move to full time?
  • What’s your time frame?
  • Will they be willing to allow you to telecommute?
  • Will your position need to be temporarily filled by someone in the organisation or will it require hiring someone new? If so, will you have input on the hiring process?
  • What happens when you return to work?
  • If you’re pumping, will your office give you a designated spot?
  • Covering every point playing in your mind will ensure a peaceful comeback.

Request flexibility
Indian companies are opening up to flexible work, but it’s not always a given. Flexibility – be it flexible working hours/days or remote working – works extremely well for new moms returning to work, so ask for it. Frame your request by showcasing how your work will continue to get done. Things to take into account include core business hours and co-worker concerns. 

Phase your re-entry
Planning and continued discussions with your manager are important if you want to make a successful re-entry. Put forward these options – you could come into work for two days only the first week, increase by one day each week until you’re back to five days a week, or work it another way. Also, rather than just showing up at the office after three months, set things in motion gradually by meeting your manager or colleagues for a casual lunch or coffee a couple of weeks before you rejoin work. An in-person meet-up lets you catch up with work friends, learn about new projects and feel re-engaged with work.

Find a mommy mentor 
Look for a guide who’s been through this situation and waded the waters successfully. She’s the one who’ll give you invaluable advice like planning your first day back to be a Thursday, giving you a heads-up on childcare options or commiserating when you just need someone to listen.

Stay involved socially
Nothing seems as important as finishing up the day’s work and heading home to baby. But it’s important to stay involved with what’s happening socially at the firm along with engaging with clients. Be it office parties, networking events or industry seminars, make time for them – especially after you’re back.

Ask for more work – if you’re ready for it
In the weeks you’ve been away, the workplace is likely to have changed. Returning mothers often find themselves getting marginalised or sidelined; very often, this is by team leaders who’re trying to be kind by not giving them very challenging assignments. But if you feel you’re up to them, go ahead and initiate discussions to ask for more work.

Juggling employment responsibilities and a new baby will never be easy. But planning and discussing how you will rejoin work can make handling any unexpected roadblocks a lot easier.


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